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It was raining cats and dogs and heavy winds were blowing that evening. A thunderstorm was raging over Memphis, Tennessee, as singer/songwriter and Hi recording artist Ann Peebles, her boyfriend Don Bryant (himself a Hi artist & prolific composer) and their mutual friend, local D.J. Bernard "Mister B" Miller, were getting ready to go to a concert in the city. But the weather was so bad that the trio decided to kill half an hour writing a new song, while waiting for the merciless rain to stop. Little did they know that they were about to make music history. Looking out the window, Ann moaned "I can't stand this rain!", which Don thought would make a great title. Ann, Don and Bernard never made it to the concert, instead they finished the track that same night and the very next day "I Can't Stand The Rain" was cut, in just one take. It would become one of the biggest hits of 1973, scoring a top position on both the Pop and R&B charts, not only in the U.S., but around the globe. It is arguably among the most well-known and best-loved Southern Deep Soul records ever made. Although it was not Ann's first hit on the legendary Hi record label, nor her last, it was the one that established her as an international star and which defined the Hi-sound world-wide.
Moviegoers may recall hearing it in "The Commitments" and over the twenty-five years that has passed since it first came out, "I Can't Stand The Rain" has been covered numerous times, and by many fine artists too. But even so, no one has been able to even come close to the quality, passion, emotion, power, well, that thing called Soul, which Ann's original oozes of. Not even Tina Turner, who, after having cut Ann's Hi-labelmate Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" to great success, looked to "I Can't Stand The Rain" in 1984. Six years before that, in 1978, U.K. band Eruption with Miss Precious Wilson on lead vocals, enjoyed a massive hit with their discofied version.
Whether it was their intention or not, Eruption introduced the song to a whole new generation of record buyers who probably had never heard of Ann Peebles before. Innovative R&B/Rap artist Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott did the same thing in 1997. With her Platinum-selling single "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)", Elliott offered young Hip-Hop heads a taste of what true Soul is all about. Unlike the majority of today's Hip-Hop and R&B producers, who base their music on samples from classic Funk and Soul recordings, sometimes without properly acknowledging the original artist, Missy Elliott didn't just sample Ann's voice in order to enhance her own record. It soon became clear that Missy had respect and genuine love for Ann Peebles, proven by her request that Ann would sing on Missy's "Late Show with David Letterman" appearance.
"So many people have done 'I Can't Stand The Rain' and it really makes me proud whoever does anything of mine", Ann said in a warm and friendly southern accent, when I called her up in her Memphis home. "This is the 25th year of 'I Can't Stand The Rain' and it never stops, somebody does that song every other year or every three years! It helps me to know that, hey, somebody's listening, somebody loved what I did enough to take it and do it their way. I knew Missy was gonna do it, but I didn't know how. I first heard it when I saw the video. I thought it was clever, the way the song was put with a rap. I really liked it and I saw how fast it was moving. I knew it was gonna be Platinum and that thrilled me too, to watch somebody as young as Missy Elliott pick up a song that I've written and recorded, and many others have recorded too. Missy told me that she kinda grew up on my music, that her aunt was really in love with everything I did and that's what made Missy listen to it."
Why I made these Web Pages...
Missy Elliott and I apparently have something in common. In my view, Ann Peebles is one of the most underrated female Soul singers of our time. She is also one of the few from the "old school" that is still active today, both as a recording artist and live performer. Interviewing this petite and rather shy Southern belle is something I've been hoping to get the chance to do for quite some time. Not only because she is a great vocalist (and songwriter), but because she has a very special place in my heart. Along with Gwen MCrae, Benny Latimore, Millie Jackson and Betty Wright, Ann was one of the very first Soul artists I ever heard and she was most likely the one who first opened my eyes to bluesy, traditionally stooped R&B music.
My first encounter with Ann Peebles came around 1980. In a sales binge at the supermarket, I spotted her timeless 1975 LP "Tellin' It", not knowing what it was, just that she looked cool, and that I could afford it. It cost only ten kronors (about a dollar), so I took my chances and bought it. Needless to say, I've never regretted it. I loved the cover and everything else about that LP, and I still do. Considering how many times its rotated on my parents' old, worn-down 60's gramophone, it is amazing that the LP is still playable.
The producer and engineer was Willie
Mitchell, a man who I would come to admire greatly, as I discovered that he was the brain
behind so many other fine Soul recordings too. And the musicians that backed Ann up were
something else. They were an ultra-baad bunch of cats, simply known as Hi Rhythm. Their
tight, sparse and slightly bluesy sound appealed to me instantaneously, but what made me
play that LP (and every other LP by Ann I could get my hands on) over and over and over
again, was ultimately Ann's voice. It's that amazing Voice and what she can do with it
which never ceases to astonish me. Like few others, Ann can switch from silky smooth to
gritty tough with ease and she'll make you believe she's lived every word she sings.
"As long as I can remember I've sung that way, even when I was just singing in
church", Ann explained when I asked her how, when, and where she developed such an
incredible voice and range. "But I was never one to step out and lead too many songs.
I was always background or second lead or something. But you know, I asked my dad that one
day; 'how did I ever get this feeling?'. When I sing, it's all of me. I leave nothing
behind because I can feel whatever I sing. My father said; 'Ever since you could open your
mouth you've been singing that way'. So, I guess I would say it's a gift."
© Maria Granditsky